For viewers who saw last weekend’s premiere of PE|Mo’s Anatomy of an Accident at Open Flight Studio, the show will no doubt continue to resonate and settle for weeks to come. Anatomy is the brainchild of PE|Mo co-directors Rosa Vissers and Hatlo, along with collaboration from a group of performers spanning the worlds of dance and theater. Anatomy of an Accident has the emotional heft of dance theater originator Pina Bausch’s work, mixed with generous helpings of beat poetry and the 24-hour news cycle. A true piece of dance theater, Anatomy’s simultaneous use of spoken text and movement gave both forms of communication more impact.
Audience members were transported even before the pre-show: in the entrance corridor, viewers brushed aside sheet after sheet of white gauze, as if stepping into a dream. As part of the pre-show, performers led intimate groups of four or five people into the performance space, urgently hurrying about the space while interacting with viewers using speech, eye contact, and touch. The main guide through this pre-show was Jordi Montes in a stellar performance, her sincerity and ardency gave weight to every word she uttered throughout the entire evening.
Once the audience was settled, Ryan Vinson began speaking downstage as silhouetted dancers moved behind a gauze divider, their shadows colliding over and over again. The deft use of light and shadow played with dimension, some figures towering over others. As the gauze rose, it revealed Corina Dalzell in a ranting solo. Portraying a street youth, Dalzell claimed her worth by calling herself “virtuosic garbage”—the claim was certainly part true in regards to Dalzell’s virtuosic dancing. Covering the stage in a matter of steps with twisting, expansive motion, her simultaneous monologue and movement seamlessly supported one another.
Without providing too many spoilers, Anatomy dealt with overarching themes of trauma and community response to tragedy. These ideas were made particularly clear through text, perhaps best showcased in the repetition of speech and motion that echoed the process of reliving a trauma. As Bausch once stated, “Repetition is not repetition, the same action makes you feel something completely different by the end.” Particularly the performers’ spoken text showed how recounting an event can draw prejudices and societal pressures into the narrative. Throughout the evening, audience members were moved around the stage, becoming part of the piece and echoing the crowd control that happens after an incident. Some of the most relevant and truthful words for the current social climate came from performer Vinson; he spoke of what it feels like being seen as a black man, and the feeling of others treading on him without having the ability to fight back. This led to a poignant moment later, when Vinson walked across the backs of the other performers.
In an evening full of emotion, a particularly raw performance came from Maggie Wegener, as she became a physical embodiment of rage. Wearing the standard office worker’s wardrobe of a plain grey polo shirt and black work pants, she moved in short bursts, tense through every muscle in a clear depiction of fury, desperately grasping to be contained. This moment was perfectly accompanied by Montes speaking about “gracious rage.” The narrative text provided by Hatlo had the feel of beat poetry, referring to Wegener as a “flag in a storm.”
Anatomy of an Accident is the kind of performance that worms its way inside you. One of the final lines, “I’m doing the best at being alive that I can,” feels like it comes straight from co-directors Vissers and Hatlo. In creating art like this, PE|Mo is doing the best at being alive that any of us can do. With an additional opportunity to see Anatomy this weekend, November 13-15, it would be wise to take advantage. Weekend two is currently sold out online, though ten walk-up tickets are available each night. The box office opens at 7:30 PM.
For more information on PE|Mo see the company’s website.